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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Mum Shirl (Mrs Shirley Smith)

1988
Juno Gemes

gelatin silver photograph on paper, edition A/P (sheet: 60.8 cm x 51.0 cm, image: 44.0 cm x 31.8 cm)

Shirley 'Mum Shirl' Smith AO OBE (1921–1998), humanitarian, was a Wiradjuri woman. Born near Cowra, NSW, she was brought up by her grandfather, who taught her to 'first love yourself, then spread it around'. Severely epileptic, she never went to school, or learned to read or write, although by the end of her life she spoke many Aboriginal languages. In the mid-1930s her family moved to Sydney, and one of her brothers was jailed. She began to visit him in prison, and when he came out she continued to visit others, encouraging them, finding their families and helping them to regain health. Soon she began acting as support for Aboriginal people in court, and assumed responsibility for countless children. Living in Redfern, where she cared for hundreds of alcoholics and homeless people, she was one of the founders of the Aboriginal Medical Service and the Aboriginal Legal Service. Over time she was involved in the establishment of the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, the Aboriginal Children's Service, the Aboriginal Housing Company and the struggle for land rights.

In 2003 the National Portrait Gallery exhibited Juno Gemes' solo show Proof: Portraits from the Movement 1978–2003. This photograph of Mum Shirl was taken at the Invasion Day March for Justice and Hope at Sydney Town Hall on 26 January 1988.

Gift of the artist 2004. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
© Juno Gemes/Copyright Agency, 2021

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Juno Gemes (age 44 in 1988)

Shirley Smith AO MBE (age 67 in 1988)

Donated by

Juno Gemes (19 portraits)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark

Portraits for Posterity

Previous exhibition, 2006

Drawn from some of the many donations made to the Gallery's collection, the exhibition Portraits for Posterity pays homage both to the remarkable (and varied) group of Australians who are portrayed in the portraits and the generosity of the many donors who have presented them to the Gallery.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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